So last night, I wrote about why my kink is not about transgression, taking Yingtai’s side rather than Remittance Girl’s “it’s all to do with transgression, or pretending to transgress” argument that kink is inherently perversion and unethical or wrong – just some people pretend it is but don’t think it is really.
This morning, thoughts started racing through my mind about why, even though everything I said last night is right, my kink does deal with transgression and the wrongness that RG implies.
I found a rather fascinating essay at the University Library in Cambridge, in a book about SM compiled from work by various academics who have studied kink from a non-condemnatory position. The essay discussed whether BDSM is “against the law” [EDIT: I found where I noted the quotation; the essay is “Sadomasochism and the Law”, by Dr Matthew Weait, from the collection Safe, Sane, Consensual: Contemporary Perspe3ctives on Sadomasochism edited by Darren Langdridge and Meg Barker, 2007]. After discussing what the law is in the UK, it conjured the rather more philosophical suggestion that (I’m paraphrasing, and possibly simplifying slightly, here):
Since the State reserves to itself the right to use force, particularly as a corrective or controlling influence, the way in which BDSM negotiates force and power within its set boundaries transgresses against the State’s perceived monopoly on the use of force, and the way in which it creates force and power as a locus of pleasure rather than coercion breaks the law’s understanding of control. When, within a BDSM relationship, discipline is an active part of the dynamic, then the couple, by agreeing to that, have in some sense taken the powers of the law to themselves. BDSM by its existence challenges the State’s exclusive right to use force and challenges the foundations on which that use rests. (Selectively quoting from the essay: “In its … manifestation of a desire that challenges the very logic upon which law depends, its parodic subversion of punishment, authority, power, domination and submission, … it is in a very real sense against the law.”)
None of this makes BDSM or kink “wrong” in an ethical or moral sense, but it certainly makes it transgressive. The very nature of my not being a pervert makes me, in the power structures of wider society, perverted, because of the ways in which I use (as a Dom), and have used on me (when I Sub), power, pain, and control. Even though the world has moved on since that essay was written, and the law is more indulgent now than it was towards BDSM, that inherent challenge to the accepted system still lies at the core of what it is that we do.
I don’t view kink as in any way wrong or unethical or immoral. Plenty of people with only a vague conception of what it is, however, do see it that way. They make up more of society than kinksters do. Society also constructs all kinds of bizarre restrictions and norms about sexuality, bodily desire (not just sexual – see how people who enjoy food are also stigmatised or presented as naughty or wrong) and gendered roles.
Kink can use that. We can take their stupid rules and play with them. (Parodic subversion FTW!)
“I’ve been such a bad, filthy, sexual person. I need to be punished!” says the wide-eyed Sub. “Ho ho ho, oh dear!” says the Big Bad Dom, “I shall have to bend you over my knee and spank you!” “Oh no, please don’t spank me, Big Bad Dom, anything but that!” says Brer Subbie (a spanking being to a Sub what the briar patch is to a rabbit, you understand). You get the idea. I prefer the term “play punishment”, others call it “funishment”, the point is there’s no transgression happened here, but the idea of society’s rules is used to make a pretence of transgression, of rule-breaking, to provide an emotional or emotive context for the play. Now, my kink is such that if you want a spanking, or flogging, or bondage, or whatever, then you just have to ask. There’s no need for “oh, I’ve been naughty” – and if you act out trying to “earn” a “punishment”, you’ll usually not be satisfied. But when we set up a roleplay and throw in these punishment/transgression elements, because we want to, that must mean that it’s not about rule-breaking or feeling “naughty” or “bad”, or even the thrill of “breaking the rules”. I think, and again, this is partly based on what I pick up from talking to Subs about it, that it is much more about a particular kind of feeling: small, or exposed, or “caught out in the open” about oneself.
I’ve been thinking about where humiliation fits into my kink. Yingtai wrote a piece about research on humiliation (outside of BDSM), where the researchers used a definition of humiliation as, “the emotion associated with being lowered in status in the eyes of others”. I’m not sure I totally buy into that definition in terms of humiliation play, but it’s useful nonetheless. And my thoughts kind of fit into it so we’ll use it for now.
As a Dom, I like humiliation play, it involves the mind on a delicious level, and if my partner enjoys it too, then there’s the exquisite combination of power, pain and pleasure but in the mind instead of the body. And it’s wonderful. But I don’t like humiliation play as a Sub, even though I do like (or like the idea of) a lot of the activities that are often used to create humiliation play. The thinking I have been doing is that emotionally, just those acts on their own don’t make me feel belittled or “lowered in status”, but they do make me feel exposed. I am vulnerable to being targeted in that way, I am small, and I am suddenly put in a defenceless position. You could laugh at me or belittle me, and that would be a very bad experience (I’d safeword instantly), but as long as you don’t, and I feel confident that you aren’t (and aren’t going to), then it feels amazing. (Incidentally, that’s another way in which my kink is NOT about transgression. Just to point that out. Transgression would be to do the laughing/belittling.)
I sometimes think I fail at humiliation play because nothing I do to or with a partner could lower them in my eyes. But I’m good at pretending, and I am good at making a partner feel small and defenceless and exposed – what her (or his) mind does with that afterwards is something else, but if she processes it as “lowering in status” (even though no such lowering actually happens) and enjoys humiliation play, then that’s our shared bonus.
Which lengthy aside is to say that when we play at transgression/punishment (“funishment”), it’s this small, exposed, “caught out”, feeling that seems to me to be the objective. And it’s a good thing.
Kink is not unethical or about transgression (that is, transgression is not necessarily our goal). But at the same time, it subverts and transgresses certain norms of society in challenging ways. Furthermore, it plays with ideas of transgression and rule-breaking in order to achieve desired goals.
I am not a pervert, but just by being who and what I am I break the rules anyway. And that is a good thing. (There’s a Mal Reynolds quote for that, isn’t there?)